CLARKSVILLE, TENN. — Animal cruelty charges brought against the founder of a nonprofit organization in Clarksville that claims to rescue dogs and train them for disabled soldiers brought about outrage, accusations and demands for answers Friday as people from several states tried to figure what might have happened to animals they put in her care.
Nicole A. Hulbig, 29, director of RRR Service Dogs was arrested Thursday night on four counts of aggravated animal cruelty a day after Montgomery County Animal Control officers found four dead, decomposing puppies at her Clarksville home and arrested her husband on the same charges.
But Nicole A. Hulbig told The Leaf-Chronicle on Friday that she and her husband are separated and she had not been to the house at 3300 N. Henderson Way in more than a month and had no knowledge of the four dead dogs.
She said all the animals that had been in her care either went with her when she moved to Cottontown, Tenn., or were placed in foster homes but she would not say where they are now.
"I won't disclose where the dogs are," she said "They're with fosters. I'm not telling any names."
'They were devastated'
But one woman who had read about the case found her son's dog -- who Hulbig reportedly took in to train as a service dog for an autistic child -- at the Sumner County Animal Control shelter on Friday.
Donna Dunbar of Goodlettsville said her son, Oscar Gordon of Clarksville, had turned over his mixed-breed dog, Kobe, to Nicole Hulbig because he could too rowdy for his blind stepdaughter.
He and his wife were getting ready to leave to visit his in-laws in Sweden when they heard from Nicole Hulbig, Dunbar said.
"They were at his house, her and her husband," Dunbar said. "They said they had an autistic boy that could use him and they would train him to be with the autistic boy."
Thinking that would be good for both the dog and child, Gorgon gave Kobe up.
But as news of Eric Hulbig's arrest and a warrant for Nicole's arrest spread Thursday, they were horrified and wanted to know where Kobe could be.
"They were devestated," Dunbar said.
She said they were unable to get answers from Nicole Hulbig.
But after a story about her arrest was posted on The Leaf Chronicle.com Friday saying she had listed a Cottonwood, Tenn., address, Dunbar called the shelter in that county and located Kobe at the Sumner County Animal Control Shelter.
She said she was told he had been brought in with a number of other dogs picked up from the home of one of Nicole Hulbig's relatives.
A worker at the shelter would not say how many dogs were picked up or provide any other information, saying it was part of an ongoing investigation.
Demand for answers
Nicole Hulbig said she had received so many messages from people on her phone and on her Facebook account that she just couldn't answer them all.
"I'm not hiding. I'm not running," she said. "I just can't deal with a thousand questions from a thousand different people because I don't know (what happened)."
She said she turned herself in at the Montgomery County Jail on Thursday after learning about the warrants for her arrest. She was released on $4,000 bond.
Nicole Hulbig said she deleted her Facebook account because people were making threats, listing her phone number and putting her relative's address online.
"I'm not playing the drama game," she said. "After seeing the way people react, the assumptions of guilt, from people who have seen what I do ... to see the way they automatically assume I did this..."
Nicole Hulbig said she and her husband had been having trouble for several months and she moved out with her children. She said she does not know where the four dead dogs came from or what happened to them and said she had not been in the house for more than a month.
When she saw the Patrick Place subdivision house last, it was not "unlivable," as a property manager described it. A vandalism report filed with the Clarksville Police Department estimates damage to the home the couple rented in January at $13,500. Photos taken inside the home show decomposing dogs and piles of trash inside the home. A crew with masks was carrying items out Friday and throwing them into a construction-size trash receptacle that took up most of the driveway. A strong smell drifted from the home and across the yard.
Nicole Hulbig said when she left, the home was not filthy.
She said she talked to her husband briefly after he was released from the Montgomery County Jail on $4,000 bond but he had few answers about the home's condition or dead dogs.
"I heard a lot of 'I don't knows,'" she said. "He didn't say anything much about it. He said he didn't know much about what was going on."
She said she has been on bed rest for the past month with a high-risk pregnancy and can prove she hasn't been at the home for at least that long.
The dog that didn't come
But David Blair of Greenup, Kentucky, which is about 347 miles from Clarksville said he talked to Nicole Hulbig, who most people call "Nikki" on Tuesday and she told him to meet her at the 3300 N. Henderson Way home on Thursday because she was going to take his dog and train him for a disabled soldier in California.
He said he had driven more than half the distance before he realized her friend had sent him a text saying she couldn't meet him Thursday. After he called the friend he heard about the arrests.
He is having to rehome three of his dogs because has to move. But he wanted to make sure all found very special homes before parting with them.
His yellow lab was listed on RescueMe.org and that's how Nicole Hulbig came to contact him.
"Nikki was looking for a dog like I have," he said. "The reason was there is a disabled veteran in California that was supposed to be getting a service dog from Nikki. She wanted a dog that looked like ours because she was training a dog that looked like ours and that dog wasn't working out because it was too aggressive. She wasn't going to tell him that it was a different dog but try to pass it off as the dog he fell in love with because he only saw pictures."
Blair said she told him the soldier was going to fly to Tennessee from California, train with the dog in July and then fly back with him. That sounded like such a nice story that he was hooked.
"She was very convincing on the phone," he said. "She sounded very sincere."
He said she told him to meet her at the North Henderson Way home between 2 and 3 p.m. Thursday but he found out about the dead dogs about an hour before he would have arrived and took his dog back home.
Woman said she feels scammed
Heather Rousse of Ft. Campbell isn't shy about saying she feels Nicole Hulbig is scamming people. She even started a Facebook page called "RRR Service Dogs and Rescue Scams" that received more than 100 "likes" in a day.
She said Nicole Hulbig offered to train a service dog for her disabled daughter and started a fundraising campaign on YouCaring.com to raise $750 for the dog's vet bills, certification and associated costs.
She said Nicole Hulbig evaluated a dog and the Rousse family adopted it but they have only had two classes and the dog still hasn't been spayed or had any medical care. The last class was in March.
The family had hoped the dog would be ready to accompany 4-year-old Kami to kindergarten but now there is no way she'll be ready. Kami has cerebral palsy and problems with her speech and vision. The family had hoped a service dog could help her cope.
"There were a lot of empty promises that were made," Rousse said.
She said her family isn't alone. She knows of other people in Ft.Campbell and Clarksville who Nicole Hulbig was working with.
In each case, Nicole Hulbig would manage the fundraising, although it was usually friends of the families that made donations, Rousse said. And now those people are angry that they haven't gotten the training they were promised, Rousse said. Nor have they received any of the money that was raised.
She said the group is working to organize and see what to do next.
Some are even more distraught because they boarded their dogs with Nicole Hulbig and didn't know where they were. Several were headed to Sumner County to check the shelter.
'I can enjoy life now'
Heston Gilbert of Clarksville defended Nicole Hulbig Friday saying she helped him find a service dog and trained him so well that Gilbert's whole life has changed.
He said he was hospitalized a year ago with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and a service dog was recommended. He wanted a pit bull and Nicole Hulbig helped him find one to adopt.
In the beginning, Manny's manners weren't very good but after Nicole Hulbig started working with him in November he changed completely.
Now he goes everywhere with Gilbert, lying quietly under restaurant tables, and getting along with his children.
"He alerts and wakes me up from nightmare," he said. "Anywhere I go, the dog goes. That dog is a lifesaver."
He said Nicole Hulbig deserves credit for the work she does for soldiers.
"I hate to see her work thrown aside when there soldiers who have benefited," he said. "She not only trained my dog, she trained me to train my dog... There is something to be said for what she has done. I don't think her husband's mistakes should negate what she has accomplished."
He said he went to the North Henderon Way home many times, as recently as April, and nothing was amiss.
Pleas from Alabama
Erika Putman, community liaison for the Town of Butler, Alabama, said the town is small and works with rescue groups to find homes for the animals that wind up at their small shelter.
She said a number of dogs were transferred to RRR Service Dogs in August and September and she's been trying to get photos of them for months with no success.
"I have personally requested photo updates for our dogs because I don't go buy word updates," she said. "I've requested those directly from Nikki."
She said Nicole Hulbig did not respond.
Now she's one of the many making calls to Sumner County Animal Control and linking with other rescue organizations who are sharing information online.
Nicole Hulbig said there's no reason to worry about animals or money that was put into her care.
She said she'll be in touch with people in time and that the $750 fundraisers for service dogs will be resolved, but it won't happen overnight.
She said she's disappointed with people's response.
"I'm just kind of done with it all," she said.
Rather than concentrating on what to tell them, she's focusing on what to tell the courts, she said.
A court appearance is set for 10:30 a.m. June 12.